Friday, September 14, 2012

What Does Prana Mean to Me?

The other day I was asked what prana meant to me. My mind went blank - what a complicated question. No matter what the answer is, it could never be complete. After I gave it some thought, I came up with an answer, well... two answers. Prana is life and the gateway to consciousness.

Prana can be translated as wind or air. In the body, that is translated to breath. And breath is the symbol of life. When a baby takes in their first breath, they enter into the world. And after they take their last breath, they leave it.We cannot live without air. Without air, the body would last minutes. It is the base function to life, setting in motion the other systems of the body - the fuel for the fire.

In addition, I consider prana to be the gateway to consciousness.

I have a story that helped me come to this conclusion:

I learned first hand that breath affects out thoughts, emotions, and even affects us physically.This came to me in a yoga asana class. I was struggling in class, realizing that I was almost to the point of physical exhaustion. This particular class had a student assisting as well as a teacher. The student walked up behind me, noting that I was clearly struggling. Not only was the class physically demanding, but I felt that I could not continue, and I was beginning to feel panic and fear. They gave me what I consider to be the best verbal assist I have ever gotten. They said, "pull energy from your breath."

My first reaction was, "yeah sure." But what did I have to loose? So I tried it. And, of course, it was a huge help. I began to deepen and slow my breath. My mind then focused on the breath, instead of the idea that I could not do it. Then I started to shake a bit less, which calmed my emotions a great deal, proving to me that I was not about to drop dead. My breath had calmed my thoughts and emotions and even made the pose physically easier. I realized later, that my body had gone into a subconcious reaction. I was having trouble, so my subconcious mind began to create a pattern - my breath sped up, which sped my heart rate, and made me think that my body was at the brink. Once my subconcious mind began affecting my concious mind, my emotions started to get involved., bringing me to a level of panic.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Pranayama, the control of breath, is referred to as a practice that "lifts the veil." In my opinion, that veil, or one of the veils, that it lifts is the veil separating consciousness, the subconcious, and unconciousness. One of our goals in yoga is to bring the subconcious into conciousness - and pranayama can do that. Breathing is the one body function that can be done uncounciously, subconciously, and conciously:

  • Unconsciously: We can breathe when unconcious. Without any thought, our body knows to breathe - automatically.
  • Subconsciously: Our subconcious reactions can create breath patterns - just like in my example earlier. My brain created a pattern, and when I got into that pose when I was tired, my body forced a faster breathing pattern.
  • Consciously: Try to stop breathing for a moment. Now start again. Speed up your breath. Shorten your breath. Deepen your breath. We have the power to do it all - to conciously control our breath.
No other body system can be operated in these three ways. For example - you can't just stop your hear beating. You can't stop hearing or seeing consciously. Or can we? Some of us have heard stories of yogis being able to slow their brain patterns and even slow their heartbeat close to a halt. How did they learn to do that? What gateway did they have to cross?

By an awareness of breath and control of breath, we can affect mood, emotion, and even physical reactions. Taking ownership of the breath in consciousness, begins to lift a veil that thins the lines of consciousness - bringing the subconscious into consciousness. The breath is really the body's most base function. It is the first domino to fall, which then activates other processes in the body. By bringing consciousness to this aspect of our being, we open the gate to a much deeper level of consciousness. This then provides us with the tools to access deeper levels of consciousness, the subconscious, and perhaps even the unconscious

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